Is there anything more irritating than trying to get in touch with a brand and not being able to? You scour their website for an email address or phone number only to come up empty-handed.
This lack of accessibility and transparency will quickly lead to distrust in consumers. After all, if they can’t rely on you to answer a simple question pre-purchase, why should they trust that you’ll take care of their interests as a full-blown customer?
But accessibility is about more than just making your brand readily contactable by potential customers, it’s about ensuring that your website is fully accessible to all consumers — taking disabilities and differences into account.
In a day and age where it’s more than possible to ensure your brand is accessible in both of the ways discussed above, not doing so will lower your brand equity, decrease brand trust, and reflect negatively on your brand image.
This article will take a look at some of the ways that brands can be accessible to all users in 2021 and beyond. Let’s dive in.
Two Kinds of Accessibility
As previously mentioned, there are two main types of accessibility. While one refers to the ability of consumers to contact a brand, the other has to do with how a brand’s web content is set up.
We will take a look at both below.
Accessibility of Contact
The first is the most commonly understood definition of the term, and it refers to consumers’ ability to reach your brand via various channels of communication.
In this case, it’s important that your brand provides up-to-date information consumers can use to contact you. Ideally, you should provide a phone number, email address, chat service, and links to all your social media profiles. This way, you can cover your bases by allowing for multiple avenues of contact.
Remember — not everyone has the same level of comfort with technology. Typically, older consumers are more familiar with using a phone number or email address, while younger consumers are likely to contact you via your chat service or social media profile.
However, simply providing contact information is not enough, your brand actually needs to respond to consumers via these channels of communication. For example, if you list a phone number as a contact point on search engines, make sure that all calls are answered — preferably by someone who can answer common customer questions.
Remember, listing contact information alone is not enough to win the trust of modern consumers, you need to ensure each channel of communication is responsive and provides accurate information. If a consumer sends your brand an email and only receives an automated response that does not address their issue, their perception of your brand will not be favorable.
Therefore, it’s vital that your brand is consistently accessible and makes communication easy and barrier-free.
Accessibility of Web Content
The second meaning that accessibility can take on when referring to brands is in how inclusive and accessible they are to people with disabilities or differences.
Websites need to meet digital accessibility standards — which have been codified in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The goal of this set of guidelines is to ensure a “single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.”
By explaining how to make web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities and differences, the WCAG documents deal with both natural information (images, texts, sounds) and code or markup, which defines presentation and structure.
The main tenets of the WCAG are to ensure that web content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. When launching or updating your brand’s website, it’s vital that you keep these standards in mind for desktops, mobile devices, and tablets — as not adhering to them can result in accessibility problems for many consumers.
The 4 Pillars of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
In order to better understand how these four main pillars of web accessibility can be implemented, let’s take a deep look at each one.
Principle 1: Perceivable
The first pillar of web content accessibility is that it must be perceivable — which means all “information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
From text alternatives for non-text content to ensuring that color, contrast, and text size are distinguishable — there’s a great deal that brands need to keep in mind in order to meet perceivability standards.
1. Provide Text Alternative for Non-Text Content
All non-text content — such as images, buttons, or videos — needs text alternatives (or alt text) so that it can be converted into other forms. For example, into audio, braille, large print, or simpler language.
Doing so ensures that your website is equally accessible to all consumers and does not discriminate against those without the ability to see, hear, or compute in the same way as others.
2. Provide Alternatives for Time-Based Media
Whether it’s an audio or video recording, it’s important to provide an alternative means of understanding.
From captions to audio description to sign language, there are many different ways your brand can ensure that its time-based media is understood by a wider audience.
3. Create Adaptable Content
In this case, the WCAG is referring to creating content that can be “presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.”
This can apply to sensory characteristics, orientation, and the meaningful sequence of content. The goal of creating an adaptive website is to ensure that the meaning of your content can either be programmatically determined or is available in a text alternative.
Take, for example, sensory characteristics. If the understanding of your content relies solely on the shape, color, orientation, sound, or size of a component, it’s not truly accessible.
4. Ensure Content Is Distinguishable
To meet this requirement, brands need to ensure their users can see and hear their content in a way that separates the foreground from the background, aka accessible design.
For example, color can’t be used as the only visual means of conveying information and there’s a contrast minimum that all websites must adhere to. Visual presentations of images and text require a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 — which ensures that all users are able to fully experience your website.
This section also requires that text is resizable, contrast can be enhanced, there’s low or no background audio, and there’s correct text spacing.
Principle 2: Operable
The second pillar of these accessibility guidelines is that all user interface components and navigation must be operable.
From keyboard functionality and shortcuts to the number of flashes allowed, this principle ensures that all users are able to properly navigate your brand’s website.
1. Ensure Keyboard Accessibility
To meet this standard, brands need to ensure that all functionality is available from a keyboard — without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes.
There are many consumers that use a keyboard as their primary means of navigation on the web, and it’s imperative that they’re able to move around your site without issue.
2. Allow for Enough Time
This principle is set up to ensure that all users have enough time to read and comprehend a brand’s content. When correctly implemented, timing is not an essential part of an activity — or if it is, it can be adjusted.
Some consumers require more time or the ability to pause time-based content in order to grasp its meaning. It’s your job as an accessible brand to ensure they’re able to do so successfully.
3. Ensure Content Will Not Cause Seizures
When designing content for your website, it’s imperative that you don’t do so in a manner that could cause seizures or physical reactions.
Specifically, to meet this standard, none of your brand’s landing pages can contain anything that flashes more than three times in a one-second period. Additionally, all motion animation triggered by interaction can be disabled — unless the animation is essential to the functionality of the content.
4. Ensure Your Website is Navigable & Functional
To meet this standard, you need to ensure that users can navigate your website, find the content they’re looking for, and easily determine where they are.
For example, all pages need to have appropriately descriptive titles, all links must have descriptive anchor texts, and each web page must have the appropriate headings and labels. Different sections require headings and users should have access to information about their location within your website. A navigation bar is great here.
Additionally, your website needs to be keyboard operable and your user interface must have a mode of operation where the keyboard focus indicator is visible.
Finally, you need to make sure that users can “operate functionality through various inputs beyond the keyboard.” Essentially, your website also needs to be navigable for users who do not operate with a keyboard.
Principle 3: Understandable
The third principle of the WCAG is that all information “and the operation of the user interface must be understandable” to all users.
This pillar takes into account things like abbreviations, reading levels, and consistent identification.
1. Ensure Content is Readable
To meet this standard, you have to ensure that all your content is both readable and understandable. Make sure to set the language of the page and different sections, that way it can be programmatically determined.
Furthermore, you need to provide a mechanism that allows users to “identify definitions of words or phrases used in an unusual or restricted way, including idioms and jargon”, as well as one for the pronunciation of words.
When it comes to abbreviations, you are required to identify the expanded form when it is first used. This ensures that a certain knowledge level isn’t required to understand your content.
Finally, if your content requires a reading ability more advanced than lower secondary education, you need to provide a simpler version.
2. Make Sure Landing Pages Operate in a Predictable Way
The goal of this standard is to ensure that your brand’s landing pages appear and operate in predictable ways, making it easier for all users to navigate your website.
For example, your navigation bar needs to be the same on every landing page to ensure consistency and predictability. Furthermore, changes of context should be initiated only by user request. And if they are automatic, there should be an option to turn off such changes.
3. Provide Input Assistance to Avoid Mistakes
This section covers the ways that brands need to help users avoid and correct mistakes made when using their website.
For example, if an error is made, that error needs to be identified and described in text form to the user. And if content requires user input, labels or instructions must be provided.
Finally, context-sensitive help must be available — such as providing a link to an appropriate help page or spell-checking services.
Principle 4: Robust
The final principle of the WCAG is that all content must be “robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
To be successful here, brands need to maximize compatibility with “current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.”
1. Ensure Content is Compatible
In order to meet this standard, brands need to ensure that their content is intelligible — specifically pertaining to any markup languages and interface components used.
All names, roles, values, and status messages need to be programmatically determinable. This means that assistive technologies — such as screen readers — can be used to understand a website’s content.
3 Tips To Meet WCAG Standards
As you can see, there are a great number of requirements modern brands need to meet to be considered truly accessible.
Let’s take a look at three tips you can use to make sure your own brand is as accessible as possible.
1. Use A Website Accessibility Checker
Not everyone has the skills and knowledge necessary to be able to determine if their brand’s website meets current accessibility standards. Many of the requirements are quite technical in nature, and, therefore, require help from developers.
However, if you want to get an overview of your current accessibility status, it’s a good idea to run your website through an online accessibility checker — like Siteimprove.
With the data such a tool provides, you’ll be able to improve your user experience, protect your brand from legal troubles, and reach a wider audience. You’ll also be able to provide more detailed information of any issues to developers — thus lessening the input needed from their side.
2. Create An Improvement Plan With A Web Developer’s Help
Once you’re aware of any issues your website may have, it’s important to work with a developer or other member of your tech team to set up a plan for improvement.
While you may have a prioritized list of improvements, someone with more technical knowledge will be able to provide realistic suggestions and recommendations.
Additionally, it’s always a good idea to institute cross-team collaboration when possible. This encourages more investment in projects and ensures they feel less like a chore.
3. Set Up Reminders To Check for Changes
As technology changes, accessibility requirements will as well. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your website stays up-to-date and meets the latest standards.
However, this is not something that comes naturally to many brand and consumer insight managers. So, it makes sense to set up a reminder in your calendar every few months — something that will let you know when it’s time to check for updates or changes.
By staying on top of guidelines like the WCAG, you’ll ensure that your brand is accessible to all — something that’s important to modern consumers.
There are many steps you can take to ensure your brand is accessible in all meanings of the word. From providing up-to-date contact information to working with developers to make sure your website meets WCAG standards, you’ll be able to reach a wider audience and relate to more consumers.
Creating an accessible website and brand is vital in 2021 and beyond. It’s part of your brand image and instrumental in building brand trust. Modern brands should make accessibility a top priority if they want to connect with their target audiences and win customer loyalty in the long run.